Microviews Vol. 31: Just The Fax, Ma'am

on Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich
When a story collection kicks off with an unused condom reminiscing about the time it spent in a teenager's wallet, you know you're in for a fun ride (so to speak). Simon Rich continues his domination of all things chuckleworthy with this quick follow-up to last year's arse-kicking, What In God's Name. The stories are many and varied, taking in that essential human concern - love - and skewering it from all angles. There's the imaginary friend (a goat) that totally misunderstands the nature of his friendship and tries to bust a move. There's the scared-straight program for schmucks at risk of falling into a long term relationship. And I am still smirking at the scientist who turns to time travel in his desperate quest to figure out what would constitute a meaningful, personal present for his girlfriend. They're quick. They're punchy. They're a barrel of laughs. Or monkeys. Or monkeys laughing. On barrels. Just read it.
4 Out Of 5 Banana Peels

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
It's easy to look back on the hippy movement with smoke-tinged, rose coloured glasses. Free love, great music, lots and lots of drugs. If you weren't on board, man, you were either a prude or a nerd. In her debut novel, Lauren Groff picks apart the hippy mythos to reveal its sad, almost pathetic heart in this tale of one particular commune (read: cult) and the fractured lives of those who lived within it. Arcadia has much to offer - beautiful prose, a sober outlook, mild excoriation - and yet I couldn't quite lose myself in its pages. Not sure why. Bloody hippies.
3.5 Our Of 5 Calming Sutras

All That Is by James Salter
Believe the hype, and you'll think that Slater's first novel in 30 years is THE publishing event of 2013, the one that will save literature from all these hipster upstarts currently polluting the landscape. Using a returned veteran of the US's Pacific campaign in WW2 as a prism, All That Is charts the evolution (or is that devolution?) of American society in the post-war years. In many ways, the novel resembles a glacier - you are carried along by its slow power, but sit down with it too long and your nuts are likely to freeze.
3.5 Out of 5 Middle Americans

Here And Now by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee
Remember that old cartoon where the little yappy dog bounces around the older, cooler dog hoping to be his best friend? Yes? Then you'll pretty much know what to expect when you read this bushel of letters between the intermittently excellent Paul Auster and as-close-to-God-as-we're-likely-to-find, Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee. It's a scattergun smorgasbord touching on all sorts of blokey stuff (friendship, sport, ageing), literary stuff (the art of writing, criticism, James Wood and his hatred of all things Auster), political stuff (American, South African, Israeli, marital) and technological stuff (the cutting edge use of fax machines). As you might expect, it is a somewhat lopsided affair; for the most part we watch Auster playing straight man to Coetzee's sermons from the mount. A bigger problem is the flimsiness of the contrivance in the first place. I never really felt the depth of their friendship. Moreover, there was an ever-present sense of self-consciousness, as if they knew their correspondence would be published. Still worth a read, though
3.5 Out Of 5 David Schwimmers

Trieste by Dasa Drndic
Since The Infatuations, I have been languishing in a literary swamp of mediocrity, unable to find anything that even remotely excites me. Desperate times call for desperate measures and so I decided to do something I almost never do. Reread the last book I remember truly loving. I need not rabbit on about how great a novel Trieste is. If I haven't convinced you to read it yet, nothing I can do now will change your mind. You are dead inside. If you ever had a soul (which I seriously doubt), it is gone. Thankfully, others have joined in the fandom since my first reading. Indeed, much greater literary figures than me have been trumpeting its brilliance and now it is in the running for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. There is, however, one downside: now I'm in a post-Trieste slump. Damn it.
5 Out Of 5 Books Of The Year


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